Although there have been no public developments for some time, the federal investigation of LSU men's basketball and coach Will Wade remains active, multiple sources told Sports Illustrated this week. FBI agents have been in Baton Rouge recently, sources said, continuing an investigation that dates back several years.
The U.S. Department of Justice Southern District of New York’s sweeping probe of college basketball corruption was announced in late September 2017. LSU and Wade were publicly implicated months later. A transcript of a wiretapped conversation between Wade and convicted middleman Christian Dawkins was read aloud at the first of two federal trials, in October 2018, in which the two discuss efforts to send prospect Balsa Koprivica to LSU. In March 2019, Yahoo Sports reported the contents of another wiretapped conversation between Wade and Dawkins, in which Wade discussed his “strong-ass offer” for guard Javonte Smart. That wiretap subsequently was aired in the March 2020 HBO Documentary, The Scheme.
LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette told SI Thursday that the school is unaware of any recent FBI inquiries or presence in Baton Rouge. Attempts to reach Wade’s attorney, Steve Thompson, were unsuccessful. A call to an SDNY spokesman was not immediately returned Thursday.
An NCAA investigation of LSU and Wade also is concurrently active. The NCAA enforcement staff’s case against the Tigers has dovetailed to include football allegations, and the case has been diverted to the association’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which was created to handle complex cases. In August 2020, ESPN.com obtained a document from NCAA enforcement asserting that Wade "arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men's basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or nonscholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects' enrollment at LSU."
Wade has kept his job through it all, with LSU’s most recent season ending Monday night in a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Michigan. He was suspended and reinstated in 2019, after the Yahoo Sports report about the wiretap regarding Smart. In April 2019 he agreed to an amended contract that allowed the school to fire him for cause if he is found to have committed Level I or Level II NCAA violations, or if the NCAA infractions committee issues a formal notice of Level I or Level II violations to LSU involving the coach. He also agreed not to sue the school if he were fired over NCAA violations.
The NCAA has not yet delivered a Notice of Allegations to LSU regarding the basketball program. While awaiting that document, which could lead to Wade’s termination for cause, he has coached two more seasons. Last year the Tigers were 21–10 and would have been an NCAA tournament team, had the tourney been played; this year’s team went 19–10, reaching the finals of the Southeastern Conference tournament before losing to Alabama and then playing two games in the NCAAs.
In the wiretap transcript read in federal court in 2018, Wade and Dawkins mull the chances of LSU landing Koprivica out of Montverde Academy in Florida.
"So you said to me in Atlanta there was a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit, they can get him to LSU, you would have funded," Dawkins said to Wade. "Would you want Balsa?”
"Oh, the big kid?" Wade asked.
"Yeah," Dawkins confirmed.
"O.K. But there's other (expletive) involved in it," Wade said. "I have got to shut my door ... Here's my thing: I can get you what you need, but it's got to work.”
In June 2017, Koprivica posted on Twitter that he had received an offer from LSU. After the scandal broke open, the 7’ 1” Koprivica subsequently signed with Florida State and will play for the Seminoles in the Sweet 16 this weekend against Michigan.
In the second wiretap conversation with Dawkins, Wade expressed frustration that a third party associated with Smart’s recruitment had yet to accept the coach’s “offer.” The third party later was identified by Yahoo Sports as Shannon Forman, a fixture on the Baton Rouge youth sports scene.
“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade said. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated. … I went to (Forman) with a (expletive) strong-ass offer about a month ago. (Expletive) strong.”
“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was (expletive) tilted toward the family a little bit,” Wade continued. “It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”
Smart just finished his junior season at LSU, where he has scored more than 1,200 career points.
SI’s tournament newsletter analyzes everything you need to know about the Big Dance: what just happened and what’s happening next. Sign up for Morning Madness here.